Do Detox Diets really work?

Posted by: Scott Ko

I was inspired to write this post due to the increasing number of people participating in these so called ‘detox’ diets, ignorant to the fact that they are scientifically un-validated and potentially harmful.

My significant other recently told me that were considering paying $300 to participate in one of these diets and I was astonished at both the price and the idea. In fact, I am quite annoyed that health stores and fitness freaks are popularising an idea that makes no scientific sense. Here are the facts:

What are detox diets?

Detox diets are a strict diet regimen consisting of a period of fasting, followed by a diet of raw vegetables, fruit, fruit juices and water. Some may incorporate the use of herbs and supplements for colonic irrigation or the ’emptying and cleansing’ of intestines. The supposed benefits are weight loss, ‘detoxification’, clearer skin and generally feeling more energetic. The diets have been popularised by a number of celebrities and fitness related organisations.

Why do they not work?

There is no scientific evidence that detox diets work. Gwyneth Paltrow does not count as a medical expert and neither does your personal instructor.

The detoxification process is naturally performed by your body – in particular your liver and kidneys that filter and eliminate the vast majority of toxins. The liver has been physiologically designed to filter substances, acting as a ‘sieve’ through which your bloodstream flows. At the cellular level, specialised cells known as Kupffer cells are responsible for the break-down of xenobiotic (foreign chemical) substances such as: metabolic waste, alcohol, drugs and other harmful chemicals found in processed foods and drinks. The toxins are then excreted through the body. As Frank Sacks, MD of the Harvard School of Public Health states , detox diets have ‘ no basis in human biology’. This is an opinion that is shared by many health professionals and experts.

How are they harmful?

– They promote the idea of fasting and extremely low calorie intake. Dieters think they have lost weight, where in fact they are most likely losing water weight. Low calorie intake also causes a slowdown of metabolism which makes it much more difficult to burn calories. This will generally result in an increase in weight after the dieter returns to normal eating. All-in-all detox diets are not a effective quick-fix.

– Long- term fasting causes mineral and vitamin deficiency

– Colon cleansing can lead to cramping, bloating and nausea

– The high amount of fluid intake from juices may lead to diarrhoea and vomiting

– Most people do not feel good on such a low calorie intake. Symptoms such as fatigue, muscle aches and feeling light-headed are common complaints.

What should you do instead?

If your liver can handle your Friday night drinks,  it is quite obvious that Mr Liver will be able to handle your everyday food and drinks in moderation. Sorry guys, there will never be a quick fix for poor health habits and weight gain. Healthy eating and exercise is the only resort. Focus on eating unprocessed foods, whole grains, lean protein and exercise.

In the long term, nobody can handle extreme levels of dieting and exercise. In demonstration, observe the Biggest Loser contestants post-competition. The vast majority have gained the weight back, because it is impossible to maintain that sort of extreme lifestyle through day-to-day life.

I am no fitness expert myself, but I understand that if I have a weekend full of indulgent eating, that eating more healthily during the weekdays is key to maintaining my healthy weight. So stop being such a diet nazi and making yourself an easy target for these ridiculous diet schemes. It is OK to have the occasional treat. Only trust reputable health websites and consult your doctor if you wish to go on a detox. Remember it is a lifestyle and mindset change – food is not your enemy!

For more information:

-Harvard Health Publications. (2008, April 29). Detox Diets, Procedures Generally Don’t Promote Health, Experts Say. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 19, 2014 from


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